Gallbladder Pain Symptoms: How to Know for SureGallbladder pain symptoms tend to strike at really inconvenient times. You could be clearing away the dishes after a holiday meal. You could have just downed a couple of hot dogs at a sporting event. Or gallbladder pain can be the surprising complication of a low-fat diet.
The symptoms of a gallbladder usually strike just a few minutes after eating. The combination of gallbladder symptoms is usually not something that would be mistaken for another condition. Usually gallbladder attacks cause most or all of these symptoms:
- Pain in the upper-right quadrant of the abdomen. This pain may be "referred" so that it is felt just underneath the belly button.
- Pain radiating to the right shoulder blade or to the back.
- Sharp, dull, or cramping pain.
- Painful bowel movements that produce clay-colored stools.
And all of these symptoms will be much worse after a high-fat meal. If an additional symptom is green or yellow skin, then emergency treatment is necessary.
What Causes Gallbladder Pain?Gallstones usually cause gallbladder pain symptoms. The gallbladder is a receptacle for the waste products released by the liver. The gallbladder holds these so that they can be released into the colon to be flushed away with stool. It's important that all the recycled hormones and cholesterol not reach the colon all at once, or they would simply be reabsorbed.
A gallstone forms when recycled cholesterol and minerals mix together in the gallbladder. When there is too much cholesterol, it tends to accumulate in the gallbladder and form stones. A low-fat diet, ironically, can accelerate the accumulation of cholesterol. The stone acquires more and more layers of cholesterol and minerals until it finally gets "stuck" in the gallbladder, large enough to cause intense pain when the liver produces a large amount of bile flowing past it.
Who Gets Gallstones?Women are about 3 times more likely than men to have gallstone attacks. This is because estrogen suppresses the formation of the bile salts that carry cholesterol away from the liver and gallbladder and into the colon. Estrogen levels are higher during pregnancy, with the use of high-estrogen oral contraceptives, and with estrogen replacement therapy. All three of these situations increase a woman's risk of gallstones.
When Is Treatment Necessary?If you have a gallstone attack, you probably won't need encouragement to see a doctor. Gallbladder pain can be quite intense.
What Can You Do to Prevent Gallbladder Pain Symptoms?The most important thing you can do to prevent gallstone attacks is to avoid crash diets that contain no fat at all. You need a little fat in your diet so the liver can make the fats that dissolve cholesterol and flush it out of your system, but only a very little. One clinical study found that a single 1,200 capsule of omega-3 fatty acids was enough to prevent gallstone attacks in a group of women on reduced-calorie diets.
And it also helps not to be a couch potato. One study found that men who watch more than 40 hours of television per week have a 7-fold greater risk of developing gallstones than men who watch 6 hours of television per week or less. Another study found that women who spend more than 60 hours a week driving, sitting at a desk, reading, or watching television had a 400% greater risk of developing gallstones than women who were sedentary for 6 hours per week or less.